Friday, June 30, 2017

Russia 1917: As We Saw It (2017)

From the June 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

The 'usurper of the Socialist name' who was made Minister of War was Alexander Kerensky.

The position as we conceive it is as follows. The capitalists of Russia, long squirming under the irksome restrictions placed upon their expansion by the feudal nobles, found in the conditions arising out of the war, a situation full of promise and they proceeded to exploit it. The Russian Army, they calculated, essentially an army in arms under duress, could have no love for the powers that drove them to the shambles, while the people at large, groaning under the misery of the universal chaos, would accept the overthrow of the nobility with acclamation. So far they appear to have calculated correctly. They accomplished their coup d'état.

Having got safely so far, of course, the Russian capitalists were greeted with the applause of their fellow capitalists the world over. But, as the history of many revolutions shows, the job is only half complete largely upon a disaffected army and people ― an army and people writhing under the torture of this cruellest of wars, naturally find it no easy matter to keep the war machine a fit and efficient instrument for further prosecuting the war.

The simple Russian soldier, once the hand of the militarist bully relaxed its grip upon his throat, gave expression to his real feelings with regard to the war by fraternising with the "enemy" by battalions, and by deserting in myriads. The simple Russian peasants, to whom "Russian aspirations in the Straits" was a meaningless phrase, and the pan-Slav question empty vapouring; to whom the enemy was the now deposed authority who had directed usurious taxation against them, holding their ungrown crops in mortgage to force them, broken and destitute, from their lands, offered no force moral or physical, to restrain the "unpatriotic" to the path of duty. Hence we find the Provisional Government engaged in the task of hunting around for some force wherewith to compel obedience to their commands, while the capitalist world looks on, its heart torn with anxious fears, wondering if they will find it. (. . . )

As in England and France and Germany the capitalist class have turned to the pseudo-Socialist and other labour fakers to aid them to their bloody victory, so in Russia the enemies of the working class find their agents in the ranks of the working-class leaders. Who fitter than a "Socialist" to harangue an undisciplined army? Who fitter than a "rebel" to lure other rebels from their rebellious ways? Who fitter than a "leader" of "democracy" to represent the shadow of democracy as the substance, and to inflame the "democratic" passions to the defence of liberties which do not exist? So they made a usurper of the Socialist name Minister for War, and sent him, hot-foot, to do work which no Socialist, in any country, could or would do.

So, having secured this agent to divide the workers, the Russian capitalists feel that they are strong enough for a bolder move, and have announced their intention of establishing a sort of travelling Courts with soldiers to execute their orders, though for the moment fear of the Workmen's and Soldiers' Delegates Committees constrain them to hold their hands. Meanwhile they are straining every nerve to create a force, both of public opinion and military, powerful enough to strike at those who dare to challenge their right to rule, and when they have secured this, then the butchery will commence ― the real bloodshed of this revolution starts.

(Socialist Standard, June 1917. Full article can be read here.)

The Future Is Yours To Mould (1945)

From the January 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Allied Powers have again asserted their supremacy and are ruthlessly stamping out the opposing forces. It has now become certain that victory is for the Allies on the Continent. As the conflict nears an end, the press, the pulpit and the radio prepare the minds of the people for things to come.

Let us cast our minds back to the “dark days,” when Britain stood alone with her “back to the wall." The capitalist class suddenly discovered there seemed to be some sort of inequality existing among the people of this fair isle (a startling discovery), and began to voice opinions such us, "Why should rich men's sons go to public schools and poor men's not? Why shouldn’t working men and women have a decent standard of living? As a matter of fact, why should there be any unemployed? By gad, sir, something must be done about it! But for this war being in the way, we might get on with the job immediately. Drat those Nazis! Let us all throw our weight on the oars and pull together until such time as we have rid ourselves of this menace."

So the workers fell in and pulled on the oars of the good ship “Kidology," sailing towards the ever-receding mirage of security and plenty.

The time for the pay-off is coining near, but there seems to be a change in the attitude of our saviours; their voices are weak, we can't hear them any more. The opinions of our masters and their henchmen have changed. Now it is, “We will have to work hard for the peace or else we can have no new order." No, your eyes have not deceived you; you did read in a newspaper that unless we find a foreign market for goods there will not be any employment for the working class. Yes, you also read that British shipping would be in a very bad position after the war. “What is this all about? Why, didn't someone say something about this before?"

Someone did tell you about it. The Socialist Party of Great Britain told you, as we told your fathers during and after the last war, that war solved no problems for the working class; that conditions after the war would be the same as before—nay, even worse. War is a product of this system of society, as unemployment is, and all the other miseries the working class are subjected to. No one is going to “save" the workers. No one is going to lead them into paradise. Your fathers fell for that tale after the last war. They left things to leaders, then sat back and waited. Whilst they waited in poverty, the rotten conditions got some of them and they drank themselves to death: others just died the natural death of a worker, in the workhouse.

You are young, fellow-worker—the future is yours to mould. Are you going to go on in the same old way as your fathers did, or are you going to make an effort to understand the world in which you live? Until you do, you are doomed. You are going to feel the cold, clammy hand of poverty in its worst form. You are going to know what means test investigation is: what it means to stand in a dole queue and wish to Christ you had never been born; see your children grow up and then be snatched from you, to go out and kill or be killed in a war where the bombs will be “better and more beautiful.” War is as sure to come under capitalism as day follows night.

It is quite simple to understand the fundamentals of Socialism. One doesn’t require an awful lot of study to realise there are two classes in society. You, fellow-worker, belong to the working class, the useful section of society— makes all the wealth. You build the palaces, the mansions whose labour, when applied to nature-given material, and the liners. You also build the rotten bug-walks you live in.

The other section—only a small fraction of the population—own and control all the means of living. Only when this section can find a market for their goods is the machinery of production set in motion. Only when this section can find a market for their goods do the working class find employment. When goods are piled high and no market is to be found, the workers are unemployed and go hungry. Goods are produced for profit, not for use.

War results from different sections of the international master class searching for places to dump goods, sources of raw material or trade routes. Whether the country of their birth has a large empire or none at all makes no difference to the working class. They have nothing to sell but their labour-power, which they sell to the highest bidder, the amount received in return is only enough to replace the workers’ energies and reproduce the species, that there may be someone to slave when they are thrown on the scrap-heap, incapable of acting their part as work beasts.

There is only one way by which the workers can escape the hell which they are subjected to, and that is to realise the only solution is Socialism—the common ownership of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people. Socialism will only be possible when the majority of the people understand and consciously organise to capture the powers of government, including the armed forces.

Fellow-worker, you have a duty to perform to your children. Your job is to seek knowledge and organise for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism. In years to come, when your children ask you, "What did you do after the last war. Daddy?” don’t let it be said you hung your head in shame and said, "Nothing, Son.” Rather let it be said. "I fought along with my comrades to establish Socialism.” The world is yours to mould.
Bert Vallar

War as Terrorism (2012)

Book Review from the November 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Just War. by Howard Zinn. Charta, €10.00.

Howard Zinn, who died in 2010, was a radical American activist and writer, author of A People’s History of the United States. This volume contains the text of a talk he gave in Rome in 2005, together with some striking photos by Moises Saman. Its strength lies in a combination of personal remarks and more general reflections.

Appalled by what he knew of fascism, Zinn volunteered for the US Army Air Force in 1943, and flew in bombing missions over continental Europe. But once the war was over he gradually came to question what he had been doing. Accounts of Hiroshima showed what the effects of the atomic bomb had been, and Zinn realised that when he helped to drop napalm on the French town of Royan, he was participating in the killing of children. The Second World War might seem to be the extreme case of a humanitarian war, but however just a war against fascism appeared to be, he and others ‘had become unthinking killers of innocent people’.

The defeat of Hitler and Mussolini did not lead to the end of militarism, as there were now two superpowers with thousands of nuclear weapons. And war, Zinn argues, is but ‘the extreme form of terrorism’. The US attacks in recent years on Iraq and Afghanistan are motivated by a desire to control resources such as oil. So soldiers do not ‘give their lives for their country’: their lives are taken from them, not given, and this is in the service of the government and the rest of the ruling class. Governments use a combination of coercion and propaganda to get workers to fight for them.

Zinn quotes Albert Einstein: ‘Wars will stop when men refuse to fight’. More accurately, wars will stop when people no longer support the social system that gives rise to them and replace it with one where wars are a thing of the past. In this book at least, Zinn has little to say about how this might happen, though he does refer to a world ‘in which national borders are erased and we are truly one human family’.

So, a slim volume but an instructive one.
Paul Bennett

Class Dismissed - How TV Frames the Working Class (2012)

Film Review from the March 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

It’s almost taken for granted that television doesn’t accurately reflect how we live, but it’s not always easy to articulate how it distorts the real world. Class Dismissed: How TV Frames The Working Class is a useful examination of the ways the goggle-box deceives us. The film was made in 2005 by Pepi Leistyna of the University of Massachusetts - Boston, and is easy enough to find on the internet. It only discusses American television, but the trends are recognisable elsewhere.

To follow the film, you have to tune in to the definitions of ‘class’ used. When its talking heads refer to the ‘working class’ they use the narrower meaning of people with low incomes, little power and less “cultural capital” (or what could be called sophistication). This is contrasted with ‘middle-class’ people who are a notch above on each of these scales. The ‘middle class’ is living the American Dream of gleaming affluence and clean-cut leisure.

According to Leistyna, ‘middle class’ characters on television are depicted as empowered, independent and sassy because the social and economic forces which often prevent these traits are downplayed. These characters only need to struggle against aspects of their personality which might stop them living the American Dream. Programme makers are less interested in showing issues relating to wider social forces or being dealt with collectively.

So, TV tells us how we should define success and that this is to be achieved individually, rather than through political action. An exception to these trends was Roseanne, an early nineties sitcom which retained some left-wing ideas thanks to the persistence of its show runner Roseanne Barr. However, even in this show, the family ‘made it’, and became wealthy. A British equivalent would be the Trotters becoming millionaires in Only Fools and Horses.

Leistyna gives another example of how ‘middle-class’ culture is shown on television in ways which hide wider problems: if a television show depicts a well-off black family, then this disguises the real inequalities that exist between communities. Programme makers would see it differently, of course. They would say that minorities can be shown in a positive way to challenge stereotypes and to improve how they are represented. However, Leistyna would reply that television only depicts successful characters from minority groups in ways compatible with ‘middle class’ values. He’s saying that television tolerates minorities as long as they are living that American Dream.

This depiction of those who have ‘made it’ differs from how ‘working-class’ people are presented on television. When a ‘middle-class’ character makes a mistake, it’s seen as an aberration from the confident, successful person they should be. When a ‘working-class’ character makes a mistake, it’s because that’s just what they’re like. Leistyna reels off a list of characteristics associated with ‘working-class’ people on television: bad taste, lack of intelligence, reactionary politics, poor work ethic and dysfunctional family values. Imagine a racist Homer Simpson who pushes Marge around, and you get an amalgamation of these traits. Leistyna describes how the ‘working class’ is portrayed as an underclass of hillbillies, rednecks and trailer trash whose lives are there to be ripped open on The Jerry Springer Show. Or its closest British counterpart The Jeremy Kyle Show.

Leistyna’s argument could be boiled down to saying that television reinforces ‘middle-class’ ideology as an attack on the working class. This is television as propaganda to sell the American Dream and distract us from thinking about how capitalism really works. While his argument has merit, it would be more accurate to say that the mindset Leistyna associates with a ‘middle class’ is just mainstream capitalist ideology. ‘Middle-class’ people are also alienated and exploited within capitalism, even if they don’t always have the same pressures as those lower down the social scale. The film ends by recognising that changing the ideology presented on television requires changing the society which creates that ideology. And that’s something else worth switching off your television for.
Mike Foster

Women, Work and Wages (2017)

The Cooking the Books column from the June 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
In an interview with the magazine section of the Mail of Sunday (26 March), the author and playwright Fay Weldon provocatively claimed that, through women going out to work,  'the feminist revolution' had led to 'halving the male wage, so it no longer supported a family.'
It is of course absurd to attribute women going out to work to feminism. That resulted from capitalism's need to overcome a labour shortage. In fact, if anything, it will have been women going out to work that led to the rise of feminism. In any event, there is nothing wrong with women going out to work, apart, that is, from under capitalism this being as wage slaves (Weldon's objection is the old-fashioned one that this means that children are brought up by nursery staff rather than their mothers).
This said, is there any substance in her claim that women going out to work has reduced the male wage? This is not as implausible as it might at first seem. In Marx's day and for many years after, when few married women went out to work, men's wages had to cover the cost of maintaining a wife and children. So, Marxian socialists defined the value of labour power as what it cost for a male worker to reproduce his working skills and also to maintain a family.
In time those administering capitalism came to realise that this meant that unmarried men were being paid too much, and a campaign was launched for 'family allowances' as a payment from the state to workers with children. The trade union movement was wary about this as they realised that this would exert a downward pressure on wages, by relieving employers of the need to include an element in wages to cover the cost of maintaining a family and raising a new generation of workers.
We in the Socialist Party had something to say on the subject in a pamphlet we brought out in 1943 Family Allowances: A Socialist Analysis. This endorsed the trade unions' reasoning, pointing out 'that once it is established that the children (or some of the children) of the workers have been 'provided for' by other means, the tendency will be for wage levels to sink to new standards which will not include the cost of maintaining such children.'
Once married women went out to work, drawn into it by capitalism's need to make a fuller use of those capable of working, the next logical economy for employers in the payment of wages would be to no longer pay married male workers enough to maintain a non-working wife. In this sense,  married women going out to work would exert a downward pressure on male wages.
Nowadays, the wage paid by employers has come to be enough to maintain only a single worker, whether man or woman, married or not. The norm now, for raising a family, is for both partners to go out to work and pay for this out of both their incomes. To this extent Weldon has a point but it is an exaggeration to say that male wages have been halved, if only because equal wages for men and women has yet to be achieved. It will, however, have had the long-run effect that wages will not have gone up as much as they would otherwise have done.
This is not an argument either against women going out to work or against equal pay, but rather one against the whole wages system under which workers, male and female, have to sell their working abilities for a wage or salary reflecting costs determined by market forces.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Money Must Go (1948)

From the February 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why do so many members of the working class find it difficult to understand the Socialist case? Certainly not because of its complications. On the contrary, it must be because of its simplicity. So accustomed are they to having placed before them the complicated plans, programmes and policies of other political organisations that the simplicity of the Socialist proposition makes them suspect that there must be a flaw somewhere.

The detailed plans of reformist labour parties, the hotch-potch of incomprehensible “immediate demands” of the communists, the cunningly conceived schemes of currency reform cranks and the elaborate domestic and foreign policies of all kinds of governments gives them the idea that politics is a most profound business. Then to be told that all their problems have a common origin in the capitalist system of society and that the solutions lie in the abolition of capitalism, leaves them somewhat bewildered and suspicious. Like a woman who, on entering a shop to buy a certain commodity, finds it on sale at a price so much below her anticipations that she suspects that it must be faulty and refuses to buy.

The socialist declares that the workers have it in their power to build a society wherein the wealth produced shall be freely available to everyone without the need to buy, sell or exchange everything that is required. To imagine themselves having access to the goods that they have worked to produce without having to ask “How much?” or "Can I afford it?” makes many workers smile and shake their heads. They recognise everything as the property of some person or persons. They accept without question the fact that goods are only available to them when they can afford to buy. The proposal that there can be a condition of things where the institution of buying and selling does not exist, makes them look for a flaw.

One can well imagine children, having grown accustomed to the practice of producing a ration book, a coupon or a permit before a purchase can be made, looking askance at any proposal that may suggest that such coupons and permits be no longer necessary. All the arguments advanced in support of a rationing system when it was introduced would then be trotted out against those who advocated its abolition, and by the very people who stood to gain by the change.

But one cannot imagine adults of today opposing the abolition of a rationing system. They have recent recollections of the days before rationing and a return to those conditions would not seem at all strange to them. Having experienced a certain condition they would know that it is practicable.

A number of those workers who pooh-pooh the idea of making the wealth produced available to the producers, are men and women who have served in the army, navy or air force. At socialist meetings they will ask in a surprised tone, “Do you mean that we can just walk into a place and eat without paying?”, “Do you mean that we don’t have to pay rent? ”, “Are you suggesting that we can go into a shop and get a suit of clothes and walk out without paying?”, "How will the boot repairer or the bus driver or the canteen waitress live if we do not pay for the goods that we have?”

Yet, quite recently, these ex-service people have lived in conditions wherein they did not have to put their hands in their pockets and produce money in order to eat, dress and sleep.

What happens when the soldier wants his boots repaired? He takes them to the unit cobbler. And when the unit cobbler wants a meal he goes to the cookhouse. Does he pay for his dinner? Of course not. Neither does the cook pay for the battle dress suit that he gets from the quartermaster’s stores. The army lorry driver does not pay for the petrol that he draws from the petrol depot or for the spares and tools that he uses. And when he drives his truck on a recreational journey, do his passengers pay a fare? Not likely. The storeman does not charge for the blankets that he issues, neither does the medical officer charge for his services. If the service man was asked to pay rent for his billet, barrack room or bunk he would regard the idea as preposterous. Despite this "non-payment” arrangement, or because of it, the whole military organisation is effective. Men do not eat greedily when they do not have to pay for their meals. Soldiers do not obtain umpteen pairs of boots just because they do not have to pay for them. In fact they often regard one of the two pairs with which they are issued as an encumbrance. Requirements are satisfied as far as stocks and stores allow.

We are not suggesting that the army form of distribution is an example of socialism in operation. Far from it. The goods that are available to the soldier have been bought. They were produced, as are all goods where the capitalist mode of production prevails, for the purpose of being sold or exchanged with a view to a profit being made. Having been through the buying and selling process they are finally placed at the disposal of the army and made accessible to the troops. All things are not freely available. In fact army life is notorious for its lack of variety and its uniformity. We use the illustration to show to those who are unable to appreciate the possibility, how goods produced for use could be distributed without having to pass through a market as far as the actual consumer is concerned.

Men and women in the armed forces produce a variety of services. They cook and cut hair, repair boots, drive trucks and lorries and sweep out barrack rooms, etc. Each in turn takes advantage of the service provided by others without thought of making payment. It should not be difficult to visualise a society where such procedure prevailed. Goods and services would be produced as they are today. The difference being that many who now are engaged in socially useless tasks and those who are not engaged in production in any shape or form, would then contribute their share of effort, thus making the task lighter for all. All the things produced, food, clothing, houses, transport facilities, entertainment, furniture, etc., all the things necessary to make life comfortable, would then be at the disposal of everyone, according to their requirements.

People could eat by entering the appropriate building, sitting down, and being supplied with food just as the soldier is supplied in his cookhouse. Or they might prefer to collect their foodstuffs and take them to their dwelling place to prepare and eat them. Such details as how people will prefer to eat, in public halls or in private dwellings, we are unable to forecast. We cannot attempt to map out in advance the detailed plans of organisation of a future society. Society is not a piece of architecture, it grows like an organism, and organs develop as the need for them arises. The prevailing conditions will determine such details in a socialist community.

The same applies to the distribution of other goods. Just how clothing will be distributed we cannot say. It may be in like manner to the quartermaster’s issue or it may be by mail order or by distribution from shops as today except that the payment business will no longer exist.

With travel it is easier still to visualise. It should not be difficult of comprehension to realise that one could board a bus, a train, a coach or an aeroplane, travel to one's destination and alight without the necessity of paying a fare. In all these instances the collectors of money will he freed from those jobs and made available for a more useful contribution to the social effort. They can be free to assist in the production of more goods or the rendering of more and better services.

The socialist does not advocate such a system of society just because it would be nice to live that way. He recognises that the present system of producing things in order that they may be sold, and that someone may make a profit out of the process, is the cause of all working class problems. From this root cause arises the poverty of the workers with its attendant problems of housing, malnutrition, overwork and unemployment, economic insecurity, crime, etc. Also from the same source comes the greatest of all catastrophes, War. To eliminate these evils It is necessary to remove the cause. So what must we do? If the cause is private ownership with its production for sale, what stands in the way of abolishing this condition? Private ownership. Only things that are owned by someone can be sold or exchanged. When goods are produced they are not made available to the producers. They remain in the hands of those who own the tools and machinery which are used to make them. By virtue of their ownership these people have the right to say what shall be produced, how much shall be produced and how the goods and services shall be distributed. The whole of the structure of present day society is directed towards maintaining this order of things. The majority of the workers accept this system, governments administer it, police, judges and jailers enforce it, soldiers, sailors and airmen fight for it, and the owners of the land, mines, factories, transport systems, workshops, etc., thrive on it. Only the socialist challenges it

Many workers try to find ways and means of remedying the evil effects of this system without even realising the fundamental cause of these evils. To them it seems a very complicated affair, requiring complicated plans. To them the simple socialist proposition of converting the means of production from private or state ownership to common ownership, and thus making all the wealth produced freely available to everyone according to their needs, is difficult of comprehension. But there is no problem thrown up by society that does not have its solution portrayed in that society. If we seek an example, a lesson or an illustration of a future social development we can always find it in our present circumstances.

To those who boggle at the idea of having the needs, comforts and luxuries of life made available to them; to those who take fright at the idea of a society without goods for sale, we would say this: Our proposals are not the result of a dream. They are the product of a scientific study of social development and a recognition that socialism is the next stage in that development, not merely because we wish it but because it is inevitable if society is to continue. There is nothing difficult or incomprehensible about socialism once you cease to regard it as too simple to be true or as an idea of men who seek to trick you. All that is necessary is for you to give up seeking arguments in favour of maintaining the system that keeps you in subjection. Give a little earnest thought to the socialist case in a sympathetic manner. We know what the result will be. Then bring your actions into line with your ideas and the job of establishing Socialism is as good as done.
W. Waters

The Newcomers (1962)

From the January 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

If you were living in one room with seven children and another on the way, what would you do about it? This was the problem which confronted a family of Irish immigrants in Paddington, not long ago. The mother tried to solve it by visiting an abortionist, but the operation was a drastic failure and she died.

This sad, and true, story spotlights some of the problems which face the immigrants who have been pouring into Britain over the past decade. Why do they come? Post-war expansion in this country has created a demand for a lot of workers. At the same time over a million people have emigrated from this country since the war. The labour shortage has been felt particularly keenly in hospitals, catering and public transport, all industries which pay badly and involve awkward shift work. For the employers, the problem is more than one of mere shortage. Sometimes these industries have been near cracking point, a situation which workers can use as a lever when they are trying to increase their pay or improve their working conditions.

In Ireland, Cyprus, India, Pakistan and the West Indies are large armies of surplus labour all seeking employment, higher living standards and the much vaunted attractions of big city life in a heavily industrialised country. For them, Britain must seem something like a land of milk and honey. Never mind that some Irish and Cypriots have spilt blood in Nationalist struggles against British rule—economic necessities override such ironies. So they come over and cram themselves into the slums of the big cities. Paddington is only one example of an area where developing industry’s need for workers has succeeded in pouring a quart of humanity into the pint pot of accommodation—and still has room to spare!

The influx of overseas workers can change the face of any town. Accents and brogues are as common in some parts now as broad Yorkshire or Cockney used to be. This has brought its problems, of course; apart from the revival of colour bias there is the mammoth of all social headaches—housing. This problem is an old favourite on election manifestos, old even when Kilburn and Moss Side were pure white and largely Anglo-Saxon. The immigrants have increased the problem simply because they have increased the number of workers who are seeking the unobtainable.

The coloured immigrants find that the housing problem seems to revolve around them because they are so easily noticeable in a white community. (Although one town in the Lea Valley is restricting Italians from local employment). This is a familiar story, which we have heard before from many other countries. The immigrants are poor anti therefore tend to flock together in cheap, decaying areas. Here they are forced to struggle for social acceptance in the teeth of opposition from workers who are already established in that particular piece of slumdom. The wealthier few buy houses often with loans from firms which stand well outside the established and recognised building societies. As the interest on such loans is high, the borrower can only ensure his profit by letting every available room angle at the highest possible rent. It is a good market to be in.

There seems to be no end to the folk seeking somewhere to sleep and to store their suitcase of worldly possessions. Friction grows as “white” tenants (in time it will be “coloured” ones as well) are edged out to make room for more profitable lodgers. So the process goes on: “human little fleas on bigger fleas and so ad infinitum.”

In fact, bad housing is simply one aspect of working class poverty. This is the explanation for the slums, the acres of out of date, badly neglected and overcrowded houses which are kept that way so that the income from rent exceeds any expenditure on them. What does it matter, whether such hell holes are occupied by English workers or those from abroad? A sane society would not have the things at all.

This is the sort of point which is ignored by so-called remedies like the Immigration Bill. The Tories must be aware that many workers have a colour bias--any move to conciliate the white voters is good political strategy. Again, perhaps the government calculate that membership of the Common Market may provide some of the labour which British industry needs, or perhaps they feel that the need has been met. After all, the most astute economist cannot tell when an economic blizzard may create a large force of unemployed. The discrimination in favour of Irish workers is not the outcome of soft-heartedness. Eire has a lot of unemployment and if nothing is done to skim this off, there may be political unrest in that country. And British capitalism cannot afford an unsettled Ireland, nor one which is tied politically and economically to some powerful continental enemy. So Ireland must be placated.

It is doubtful if even the government think that their Bill will solve the problems of immigration. Workers have to sell their labour power and they have to live near the available markets for it. Shipping clerks and foundry men, for example, cannot live in the beauty of the Quantock Hills or the Ring of Kerry. Sometimes, they must travel to reach the labour market. And when they do, they usually meet snags just like the ones they left back home. This has been the experience of the Puerto Ricans in New York, the Algerians in Paris, the Pakistanis in Southall, the British in Canada and Australia.

Bawling out “Keep Britain White,” or perhaps “Keep Kenya Black” will not help matters. There are plenty of organisations to make our flesh creep with stories about leprosy, allegedly introduced by West Indians, sweeping through Manchester. But to support them means that we only saddle ourselves with the political neurosis of a New Hitler.

No, the working class must do better than that. We must aim for a world in which men and women are truly free and can move over the earth as they like without meeting economic hardship or racial prejudice and violence. Until that happens, the reformist tinkerings will continue to blunt themselves against an insoluble problem. Whilst capitalism lasts, the hardships of the working class will follow them all over the world. That is the lesson they must learn. There is no hiding place down here.
Jack Law

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

No Change from Labour (1968)

From the December 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Late in September the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party presented a four thousand word statement to the Annual Conference at Blackpool, with the title Britain: Progress and Change.

It was not a list of promises for the next election nor, in the main, a claim to have been successful in the four years that have passed since Wilson’s government was elected in October 1964. In fact it is difficult to decide what purpose the document served. One suggestion (The Times 30 September) is that the idea was to take the minds of the delegates, and other members, away from present despondency and apathy—firstly by explaining that all the original plans are sound but have taken longer than expected to produce results and secondly, by showing how all will be well a few years ahead. Several times phrases are used in the statement on the lines of' “we all thought that Britain’s economic problems could be solved more quickly than in the event has proved possible”. Having thus disposed of a lot of things even Labour Party supporters grumble about, attention is directed to the shape of things to come, “Britain in the Seventies”.

If the first part of the statement is an attempt to explain away the government’s failure in its four years of office, the second part indicates, though in a very vague way, what may be the vote-catching promises of the next election. One of them is headed “A Fair Society” — a masterpiece of false suggestion that much has already been done by the Labour Government.

The paragraph begins:—
Britain to-day is still divided by privileges inherited from an earlier age. The maldistribution of income and wealth is the most obvious example, but it is not the only one.
and it ends “there still remains in Britain glaring and unacceptable inequalities in income and wealth’’. (Their emphasis).

In between we are told that the inequality still left is “despite the growth, under successive Labour Governments, of a crucial public sector with vast assets owned by the whole people”.

Long ago the Labour Party claimed to have the intention of ending the concentration of wealth in the hands of the propertied minority. In their 1918 Election Address they pointed out that 90 per cent of wealth was owned by a tenth of the population. At every election since then the Labour Party has promised to do something about it but for all practicable purposes the position now is just what it was fifty years ago.

And what Labour Party supporters are offered for absolutely nothing done is the figment of “owning” the nationalised industries; as if it makes any difference to a worker without large sums to invest that wealthy people who formerly held railway or steel company shares now hold Government securities instead.

Among the many surprising admissions of the statement is one about full employment, price stability. 
The task before us is formidable. No democratic society in the world—or for that matter, any other society-has ever succeeded in achieving, all at the same time, economic growth, price stability, rising wages and increasing social expenditure. 
This is a complete reversal of the confident attitude of the Labour Party in the past. For at least twenty years it has been an article of faith among the leaders of the Labour Party and their economist advisers that with the magic wand of Keynesian techniques they could do all the things with the greatest of ease. It was precisely because of this belief in their power to control and operate capitalism on lines chosen by themselves that they could dismiss the Socialist argument that capitalism is uncontrollable and must be replaced by Socialism.

So what happens as it dawns on the faithful that the Keynesian magic does not work? That it never had a chance of keeping price stability, and that the low unemployment since the war in this country has not been the result of applying Keynesian policies? (Professor of Political Economy R.C.O.) Matthews examines this in the September Economic Journal.

There are too, cold winds from another quarter. Under pressure from foreign bankers the Wilson Government and its advisers are being required to revise their ideas about monetary theory and practice—in effect to repudiate Keynes (or at least to repudiate the version they have favoured for many years). This kind of switch would present no particular problem to the Tory Party (which also has its Keynesians) but will not be so easy for the Labour Party. 
Edgar Hardcastle


The Greatest Show on Earth (1968)

From the November 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard
Harding or Cox?Harding or Cox?You tell us, populi -You've got the vox.
This piece of lumbering wit was a typical embellishment of the 1920 American presidential election, when Warren Gamiel Harding for the Republicans gave James M. Cox for the Democrats the drubbing of a lifetime. Harding won every state outside the South—and in those days southern votes would have gone for a chimpanzee, provided it was a Democratic chimpanzee.

Harding’s nomination had been a chancy affair. He went to the Republican National convention that year, Senator from Ohio and his state’s ‘‘favourite son’’ candidate—a dodge used then, and now, not as a serious bid for the nomination but to keep control of a state delegation.

But the Republicans were deadlocked and after four ballots they retired for some intensive nocturnal bargaining (it was said to have gone on in the legendary "smoke filled rooms"). The result of this was that the party pros settled on Harding as a compromise and the next day, on the tenth ballot, he emerged as the candidate. Harding was a keen poker man and his dazed comment was that he felt “ . . . like a man who goes in with a pair of eights and comes out with aces full."

Anxious not to upset his concentration on the cards by too complicated a campaign, Harding appealed for “normalcy’’. The voters were probably no clearer on the meaning of this new word than was Harding but they liked the sound of it enough to sweep him triumphantly into the White House, where, as his campaign manager had hoped, he made a “great looking President.”

The nomination is not always so uncertain. More often the successful man has it all tied up—like Johnson in 1964 (because he was already President); like Goldwater in 1964 and Humphrey in 1968 (by patiently and determinedly building up support at every level of their parties); like Kennedy in I960 (because of a series of compelling primary victories).

Kennedy’s primary campaigns were classics. He entered them to prove that a young Roman Catholic could win votes and to erase the memory of the Democrats’ disastrous experiment with Al Smith in 1928, since when no Catholic had got within smelling distance of the nomination. Kennedy fought the primaries with all the ruthless efficiency for which his clan are famous, destroying Hubert Humphrey on the way (Humphrey went out on a flood of his own, easily produced tears) and sweeping to the nomination on the first ballot.

Kennedy, in other words, fought the primaries because he had to. In theory the primaries are ultra-democratic, giving the electors a say in the people who stand for office. The fact is that no American politician ever enters them willingly — there are other ways to the nomination and, while victory in the primaries is usually inconclusive, defeat in them is disastrous.

In I960, Humphrey wailed to the pressmen assembled in an unheated coach bumping across snow covered roads that " . . . any man who goes into a primary isn’t fit to be President. You have to be crazy to go into a primary"—which might have had more point if Humphrey had not at that very moment been fighting a primary himself. Politicians after power do not shrink from putting votes before democratic theories; the primaries are an accepted field of political manoeuvre.

Of course an awful lot of nonsense is talked about them. Theodore Roosevelt’s attempt at the Republican nomination in 1912 was one important influence in increasing the number of states selecting their Convention delegates by primaries and in the course of his campaign Roosevelt seemed to be under the impression that he was God. That year the Republican pros were determined that, however many delegates Roosevelt won in primaries, the nomination would go to Taft. Roosevelt became an abrupt, fervent convert to the sanctity of primaries, although he had not had the same high regard for the voice of the people when he controlled the Republican machine.

After the primaries (and these are usually held in only about sixteen states) and after the painstaking work of collecting delegates all the way up from precinct caucuses, district committees and state conventions, come the National Conventions. The convention, we learn from certain novels and films, is a part of the American way of life, when overwrought business men and suburban fathers can show that there is still some life left in them. Here, amid the ballyhoo of processions and banners and mock-nomination of the favourite sons, comes the serious business of selecting the party’s candidate. Here, no matter what the primaries may have said, the delegations’ votes are traded or are thrown onto a bandwagon in the hope of political and other favours in the future. (In 1960 Kennedy’s men freely used the threat that, if Adlai Stevenson's supporters were too much of an obstacle to the nomination, their man would not even be considered for Secretary of State when Kennedy became President).

The nomination is usually an unexciting affair — only rarely is there the uncertainty which meant forty-six ballots before Wilson won the Democratic nomination in 1912, or the Democrats’ 103 to select J. W. Davis in 1924. Then follows the election campaign itself, when the candidates justify all the months and years of work, manoeuvring, threats and intrigue by a cynical attempt to deceive as many people as possible into voting for them.

Sometimes this deceit is quite blatant. In 1916, Wilson won on a promise to keep America neutral but six months after his election he took the country into the War. In 1932 F. D. Roosevelt attacked government interference in industry and deficit financing. He promised a balanced Budget and, among other things, a 25 per cent cut in federal spending. None of this prevented Roosevelt following different policies when in office, nor his becoming famous as the man who “cured the slump” with a combination of federal spending and Budget deficits. In all the admiration of Roosevelt’s magic genius no one noticed that the slump was lessening all over the world and that the politicians who happened to be in power at the time—for example Adolf Hitler—were getting the credit for it.

Some of the candidates’ deceits are a little more subtle. Every election brings its slogan, like Wilson’s “New Freedom”, F. D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal”, Kennedy’s “New Frontier”, Johnson’s “Great Society”. These all have the same advantage; they mean exactly what everyone wants them to—but they also have the same implied admission that the existing situation is bad enough to need altering. The voters are usually so bemused by these slogans that they vote for them without asking what happened to the old catch phrases —why, for example, did they need Johnson’s Great Society in 1964 when Kennedy’s New Frontier should have solved everything?

This kind of question is much too awkward to be faced. The workers dumbly vote for one of the candidates and then after Inauguration Day the way is clear for the process of disillusionment to begin. In 1964 LBJ was everyone’s favourite; he won an unprecedented victory, taking every state except Arizona and the Deep South. He had once voted a straight racist line but now, he said, he was a “liberal”. Even more—he had a “liberal” Vice-President, a “liberal” Congress, even a ‘‘liberal” Supreme Court. Nothing, apparently, could stop the Great Society.

We all know what happened. The Democrats’ failures and frustrations, after their years of overwhelming power, were vented in the splits and the brutalities of their Chicago Convention. Many of the voters, too, showed their frustrations and the vicious depth of their despair—they came out as supporters of George Wallace.

The American Presidential Election, with all its flags and bands and drum majorettes and campaign boaters and massive crowds, is one of the greatest shows on earth. It is certainly among the most expensive—according to Look magazine, the candidates will spend nearly $50 million on their campaigns. That may sound a lot of money but think what is at stake — no less than the hoodwinking of tens of millions of people, and power over the greatest state in world capitalism.
Ivan

The Report on Trade Unions (1968)

From the August 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

In theory Royal Commissions are set up so that a government, before introducing legislation to deal with some complex problem, can have the advice of an independent body of people who have first collected and then studied all the relevant information. The initiative rests with the government since they lay down the terms of reference, appoint the members, and can please themselves whether they accept or reject the recommendations: though if a Royal Commission makes a unanimous report it is a little difficult for the government to disregard it entirely.

In practice Commissions are sometimes appointed simply as a device to postpone reaching a decision until what may seem to the government to be a more opportune moment. The Donovan Commission on Trade Unions and Employers’ associations appears to fall into this category and the fact that six out of the twelve members, including the Chairman, Lord Donovan, express doubts and reservations about the main body of their own recommendations will enable the government to put a good face on selecting whatever parts it wants to take notice of. It may reasonably be supposed that the government had some such outcome in mind when it appointed to the Commission members whose divergent views were well known beforehand.

The reception of the Report has been equally divergent; from the Times “Few can have expected . . . that Lord Donovan and his colleagues would achieve so much”; to the Economist "A report to forget—its proposals are actively harmful”. If what the Wilson government chiefly wanted was delay, the Commission was a great success —it took over three years to report.

Its main conclusions are concerned with what it describes as the two parallel systems of industrial relations — the system of national negotiations and agreements entered into by trade unions and employers associations on the one side, and on the other, the system of local negotiations through shop stewards at the factory and workshop level. The Commission considers that with near-full employment the centre of gravity has shifted to the local agreements and that these should now largely replace the remote and ineffectual national agreements, leaving to them a much restricted role, largely that of laying down guide lines for the local negotiators.

This part of the report has received fairly widespread approval but trade unionists who remember the years of bitter struggle to achieve national agreements for the protection of their members in less well organised firms and districts may find the change a mixed blessing in face of company decisions to shift factories away from “high wage" to “low wage” areas.

The Report anticipates that the changeover will help to solve the employers’ problem of having to deal with “unofficial strikes" (95 per cent of all strikes are “unofficial”). It explains that lightning unofficial strikes can be more damaging to the employer than an official strike because they are unpredictable and have the effect therefore that they prevent managements from making plans with any confidence of being able to implement them quickly, or at all.

The Report lays much blame on company managements for this situation and expects them to bring about the desired change. They are required to create comprehensive bargaining machinery at company or factory level, conclude agreements on the handling of redundancy, ensure regular joint discussion of safety measures and make agreements regulating the position of shop stewards.

Legislation is recommended to establish a permanent Industrial Relations Commission to advise the Department of Employment and Productivity (the new name of the Ministry of Labour) on the reform of industrial relations and to investigate and report on problems arising, but without any power to compel.

The local agreements will have to be registered with the Department, at first by large firms, but eventually by all firms. Employers are asked to encourage workers to join trade unions, unions are encouraged to amalgamate and to reform their organisation and rules.

The existing industrial tribunals set up under the Industrial Training Act 1964 which also deals with disputes about redundancy payments and contracts of employment would be renamed “labour tribunals” and would have their powers enlarged to cover all disputes between employer and worker about contracts of employment, etc., including a new statutory protection against “unfair dismissal”. These tribunals would also deal with employers' claims for damages for breach of contract.

When the Royal Commission was set up there were those who feared drastic changes in trade union law, measures to cut down the activities of shop stewards and penalties against unofficial strikers. The Report contains hardly anything to confirm the fears—hence the anger and disappointment of the Economist (also of the Sunday Times and Financial Times).
The Economist (15 June) starts off with the following lament:
  The report of Lord Donovan’s royal commission on trade unions and employers' associations represents the high water mark of the particular sort of British indecisiveness which has done most to damage the country in this third quarter of the twentieth century. After three years' study, the commission reports that Britain’s system of industrial relations is in a uniquely horrible mess, but that it is for boards of directors of individual companies to bring about a change: except that it oddly believes directors would be helped to do so by a requirement that all firms with more than 5,000 employees (and, eventually, smaller firms) should register every factory agreement they make with trade unions, or else an explanation why they have made no such agreements, for vague vetting by a body of bureaucrats in a new Industrial Relations Commission, which would not, however, have any executive powers.
  It is not a caricature to say that the establishment of this vacuous research body is the main government action definitely recommended in the general body of the report, although half of the 12 signatories then express significant dissatisfaction with what they have just unanimously signed.
The Economist is particularly irate over the Commission's lack of unanimity about withdrawing from unregistered or deregistered bodies (all unions would in future be registered) the protection which the 1906 Act gives against suits for damages when strikes take place without due notice.

The majority of the Commission’s members want this immunity to continue for registered unions but not for unregistered bodies, but Mr. Woodcock, General Secretary of the TUC, and four other members of the Commission strongly dissented and the Economist fears that the Government will follow the Woodcock line.

The Government did not immediately declare what action they proposed to take on any of the Commission’s recommendations though Mrs. Castle promised quick consideration and an early announcement. The Economist, which wants strong action to curb the unofficial strikes and to remove the immunity now possessed by trade unions under the law, expects nothing to its liking, and is resigned to seeing “the horrible mess” continue—but not indefinitely. Counting on a Conservative Government after the next General Election it looks forward to the reopening of the issue. “The practical result is that the real reform to trade union legislation is now likely to have to be left to the next Conservative government and will probably have to be fought through the next Parliament as a partisan measure against fierce opposition from a Labour Party which will say that a Royal Commission intimated that reform was wrong”.

When the Royal Commission was set up it was given the task of considering the role of trade unions and employers’ associations “in promoting the interests of their members”. Had there been any socialists on the Commission they would have pointed out that the interest of the workers is not to co-operate with their exploiters, the capitalists, but to replace capitalism by Socialism, a social system in which employers and employed, the wages system and trade unions alike would have no place.
Edgar Hardcastle


Bolshevism and Marxism (1968)

From the July 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Russia had lagged behind the western nations in the development of industry and commerce despite Peter the Great’s reforms. The crucial factors in the Russian Revolution were the low degree of capitalist development, the role and aspirations of the peasantry, and the international situation at the time of the Bolshevik coup.

Marx held that under capitalism industrial development would lead to a direct confrontation of the capitalist class and the working class and that this would lead to the capture of political power by the working class. In the light of this we can examine the degree of industrial development in Russia up to 1917 and the potentialities it held for a socialist, as opposed to a capitalist revolution. For it must be remembered that Russia had not yet experienced a capitalist revolution. Industry was in fact not developed to any great extent in Russia. Eighty per cent of the 160 million Russian subjects were peasants. The defeat in war by Germany had shown how inadequately developed heavy industry was in Russia, and yet this was almost the only form of industry that existed in the Tsar’s dominions. The socialisation of production, which Marx had seen as capitalism’s contribution to Socialism, that is, the development of industry into increasingly larger productive units, operated by social labour had hardly occurred in Russia. There were really only two centres of industry, each far from the other, in St. Petersburg and in Southern Russia and the Caucaus. The working class and capitalist class did not yet face each other alone. The social scene was confused by the peasantry — a mere 80 per cent of the population!

The role and aspiration of the peasantry are crucial in any examination of the nature of the 1917 Revolution.

The peasants were susceptible only to Lenin’s promise of land. Their aspirations extended no further than that they should have their own land. When they later protested against state policies on the land, they were hastily suppressed. Thus one of the mass bases of the revolution had to be suppressed, for Lenin had climbed to power partly on the backs of the peasants, when the motive of the peasants were certainly not socialist.

We have noted that Russia was not “ripe” for Socialism. Marxism holds that objective and subjective conditions must coincide for a country to be ready for a socialist revolution. In Russia Lenin could not ask the people to raise the Bolsheviks to power without renouncing every claim to being a Marxist. The objective conditions were not ripe, but neither were the subjective. Had you asked a revolutionary what his views were about the moneyless, socialist economy which was supposed to be approaching, he would probably have been unsure as to what you were talking about.

How, then, did Lenin manage to lead the Bolsheviks to state power in a situation not suitable for a Marxist party? The simple answer, of course, would be that Lenin was not truly in the tradition of Marx. The problem, however, has more to it than just that. The country was in confusion: food was scarce, as was clothing: the armies were in disarray on the front in face of German attacks; some army officers under Kornilov had threatened the Provisional Government which was incapable of imposing any sort of order. In the midst of this confusion Lenin offered the suffering poor a blueprint for planning success that was brilliant because of its simplicity: Peace, Bread and Land. The way he proposed to achieve this was by nationalising large private property (nothing was said about small). The Bolsheviks were the only group organised well-enough to make any kind of appeal to a disillusioned populace. The motto of the First International: “the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself”, was forgotten.

This motto, and the principle behind it, is important in assessing how the Bolsheviks behaved from a Marxist point of view. We must also return to the 1903 London Conference of the Russian Social Democrats. To Marx “the proletarian movement is an independent movement of the overwhelming majority in the interests of that majority”. Lenin, at the 1903 Conference, had argued for the “revolutionary core” leading the masses. He was thus separating the working class movement into a mass-body and a leadership composed of intellectuals. In 1917 Lenin carried his philosophy of elitism to its logical conclusion but found it impossible to impose Socialism on an essentially unsocialist populace.

And yet can all these arguments against the material, social and human possibilities for Socialism in Russia in 1917, be refuted by Marx’s statement in his Preface to Capital: “one nation can and should learn from others”? Marx had taken the stand that Russia could shorten its transition through capitalism if the advanced western nations had revolutionary working class movements who could imbue the Russian people with a socialist spirit, and if Russia had its revolution at the same time as the western nations. Trotsky, and later Lenin, in their theory of the imminence of the working class capture of power accepted that the western working class were about to revolt. Indeed this provided the only real justification for their taking power in a country surrounded by capitalist countries. Yet their assessment of the situation was inaccurate, and in view of the intelligence and shrewdness of Trotsky and Lenin, perhaps it was deliberately so — perhaps they were, to be blunt dishonest. The western working class had joined the national patriotic front in 1914 and promptly gone to war to kill each other. Even in the horrors of 1917, they carried on stoutly supporting their respective governments. Also, the western working class had very small effect on the Russians. The Russians had certainly not been influenced by Marxism. Though Lenin had once called the Populists “stinking carrion” his attitude during 1917 would seem to show that he had learnt a great deal from these apologists of what he had called “adventurism” and “pyrotechnics”. Struve might well have been talking of people like Lenin when he said that only those blinded by “national vanity” could argue that Russia might take a short cut to Utopia.

Lenin’s 1921 New Economic Policy was merely an admission of a fact that the Socialist Party of Great Britain and some others had recognised earlier: Socialism could not be established in Russia at that time; the working class could not successfully get and hold power until the conditions were ripe for Socialism, when capitalism was in its most highly developed form.

This is not to say, of course, that the Bolsheviks were wrong to support the February Revolution. Progress could only have resulted from the overthrow of the archaic Tsarism under which the people of Russia had laboured long. But for the Bolsheviks to wish to take over so soon after the capitalist revolution had taken place in this decaying, agrarian empire, was to deny Marxist history.

In his preface to Capital, Marx stated his view:
One nation can and should learn from others. And even when a society has got upon the right track for the discovery of the natural laws of its movement—and it is the ultimate aim of this work to lay bare the economic laws of motion of modern society—it can neither clear by bold leaps, nor remove by legal enactments the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development. But it can shorten or lessen the birthpangs.
All that Marx had conceded was a shortening and lessening of the birthpangs, and even this only within his context of an international revolution.
Amit Pandya

French Revolution (1968)

Book Reviews from the June 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

History of the French Revolution by Jules Michelet (edited by Gordon Wright) University of Chicago Press. 32s
The Crowd in the French Revolution by George F. Rudé OUP Paperback 8s. 6d.

At some stage in the year 1789—the precise moment is debatable—there occurred in France a great social and political upheaval. This French Revolution gave rise, in embryonic form, to important concepts such as the class struggle, revolutionary dictatorship and, in the later stages, “elitist egalitarianism" in the form of Babeuf’s Conspiracy of the Equals.

Those, however, who see the revolution as a popular, egalitarian movement have failed to understand its true character. The French Revolution was a successful attempt by the bourgeoisie to destroy the feudalism which shackled their economic enterprise with old-fashioned regulations and which denied them the political rights they felt were their due. Throughout the, revolution’s course it was the bourgeoisie which controlled the various legislatures and executives, and its results were trade and commerce emancipated from feudalism, a law banning any trade unions (le loi Le Chapelier) and a system of indirect election benefitting the well-to-do. This was, of course, before Napoleon imposed upon the revolution the dynastic ambitions of the Buonaparte family.

There are, indeed, those who have protested that the first National Assembly, far from being a body composed of strictly bourgeois elements, was in fact packed with lawyers and other members of the liberal professions. But lawyers have always represented the interests of trade, commerce and industry—activities which are essential to their prosperity. The doctors, journalists and other professional people who sat as legislators were all notably in sympathy with liberal economic doctrines, and they were always shown to be afraid of popular uprisings such as that in Paris in July 1789. Thus the professions had effectively allied themselves with merchants, industrialists, bankers and agriculturalists, and could be relied upon to serve their interest.

These two books represent, in widely differing form, attempts to understand the role of the common people in the revolution. Michelet’s History first appeared in seventeen volumes in the 1840’s (of which this edition is a continuous selection). As such it is a good example of, and a grand monument to its age. Michelet is as much French Romaniticism’s representative historian as Victor Hugo is its representative literary figure. With a vigorous style, full of life, Michelet gives us his impassioned, apocalyptic and panoramic view of the revolution as the climax of the spiritual battle between the Catholic Order and the “principle of Justice”.

Unfortunately, in his eagerness to present the revolution as the victory of a united force—“the people”—Michelet overlooks important points of detail and produces certain inaccuracies. So insistent is he, for instance, in asserting that the revolution was a spontaneous outbreak of “Justice” and “the People” against a misery and oppression which he paints very eloquently, that he overlooks important differences in the interests of the bourgeoisie and “the people”, the main one being the contradictory demands of free trade and controlled bread prices.

Michelet’s book, however, has certain valuable aspects. It contains a brilliantly eloquent denunciation of Christian theology and extremely shrewd assessments of the true character of the so-called Absolute Monarchy and the mediaeval church in France.
Totally different in character and outlook is George Rudé The Crowd in the French Revolution. Originally published in 1959 and now available in paperback, it was described by one historian as “a significant book which opened up some entirely new sources and showed how statistical precision can be brought to the study of riots”. It is indeed a close study of the behaviour and composition of the Parisian crowd. Rudé, writing from the Marxist viewpoint, is concerned with breaking away from the tradition which until recent times treated the crowd, as he says, “as a disembodied abstraction and the personification of good or evil”, and with examining the crowd in a more scientific spirit. (The book is amply supplied with tables showing the composition, geographically and class-wise, of the crowd and the prices of various commodities at different stages of the revolution).

The crowd, or sans-culottes—called thus because they could not afford breeches—was a heterogeneous body, composed not only of the working class but of small shopkeepers and independent craftsmen as well. Rudé paints a picture of a working class still in transition between feudal and capitalist societies, and not truly distinct from other sans-cullote elements.

However, although the wage-earners in Paris had as yet developed little class solidarity, they did have a vague idea of their cohesion as a class. The breakup of the guild system had accentuated the gulf between masters and journeymen, and there had been a strike as early as 1724. Disputes over wages and conditions continued up till 1789. However, the large demands which food made upon a man’s wages produced a situation where the crowd was concerned more with keeping down prices than with raising wages.

Rudé points out that a variety of motives existed for the crowd’s revolutionary actions, among them dismay at high prices and uncertain food supplies, a belief at first in the king as its champion against the aristocracy and the church, and then in a republic. The crowd was not a totally inarticulate mob merely seeking immediate economic gains. Although economic factors may have influenced them, strongly and often, these went hand in hand with beliefs, however unsophisticated, in political principles.

In this context, Rudé well notes that the bourgeoisie, even at that early stage, were determined to prevent the wage earners gaining any influence, and that, although “whenever it (the crowd) advanced . . .  the aims of the revolutionary bourgeoisie, it has been represented as the embodiment of all popular and Republican virtues”, the bourgeoisie were unwilling to share power with this “virtuous” body. Property qualifications were required from would-be representatives. Rudé also points out “the ferocity with which the bourgeois . . .  of the National Guard dispersed the Champs de Mars demonstration” (a protest at Louis XVI’s flight from France).

Rudé’s book is an informative and extremely readable study of the popular aspect of the French Revolution.
Amit Pandya

The Review Column: Martin Luther King (1968)

The Review Column from the May 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Martin Luther King
Even before the killing of Martin Luther King, this summer promised to be a bad one for race troubles in America. Many city authorities, fearing an intensifying of the riots, had armed themselves with some formidable weapons. 

The Negroes were also preparing and waiting, with no lack of black nationalists to advise them on how to use arms, petrol bombs and the like. This menacing situation was ignited by the assassination of Martin Luther King and the death of the advocate of passive resistance was, ironically, marked by a flare-up of the very violence he denounced.

King had, in fact, been losing some ground to the groups like Black Power and this in itself is symptomatic of the change which America has undergone during the last twenty years; The suppression which the Negroes have suffered for so long was bound one day to erupt. For too long have they been denied the vote, subjected to a host of indignities and restraints. For too long has colour discrimination been a part of the American way of life. For too long has a coloured life been cheap so that, in some states, the murder of a Negro counts for little more than the killing of an insect—and the body silently disappears into some southern swamp.

The predictable result of this has been the Negro protest, the riots and the rise of the Black Power theorists. Kill Whitey and Burn, Baby, Burn are sterile remedies for the Negroes’ frustrations—but who, or what, must bear the blame for them?

Martin Luther King, for all his courage, had little more to offer the American Negroes than a place beside the country’s white workers. For most coloured workers, this is their highest aim—the right of access to the same sort of employment, the same sort of working class homes, the same sort of terms from the hire purchase company, as others.

Many have died in the long history of the American Negro, and many will die in the future. Is the result of it all only to be the exchange of one kind of oppression for another?


Wilson's Latest Gimmick
Harold Wilson, it is said, has always thought Macmillan made a serious mistake when in July 1962, in panic at the Orpington by-election result, he butchered so many of his Cabinet.

Wilson, it is true, has shown no comparable ruthlessness—and if ever a Prime Minister had cause to panic he has now. But panic or not the latest government reshuffle, which had already been dubbed by Richard Crossman in fashionable technological jargon as Wilson Cabinet Mark II, was plainly inspired by the government’s low popularity.

The big move was that of Barbara Castle from Transport to the new Ministry which will combine some of the work of the Ministry of Labour and the Department of Economic Affairs. Castle has proved in her term at the Ministry of Transport that she is a cunning politician and a master of the art of public relations. It was a shrewd, if despairing, move to give her the job of kindling the government’s latest pillar of fire—the promise that, if we all concentrate on productivity wage restraint will come off and we shall soon arrive at the Promised Land.

This must have been about the only ember Wilson was able to find, as he raked about in the ashes of his defeats— his unpopularity, the sour memory of his National Plan, the ludicrous impotence of his Rhodesia policy, the long list of broken promises. Castle, the one-time firebrand, Aldermaston marcher, anti-apartheid campaigner, could be just the person to fan the ember into flame and to mislead the working class into a belief that, whatever may have happened in the past, there is some hope for them in the future.

The working class, as we know, can be infuriatingly gullible. But are they really so far gone that they will be impressed by this latent, and emptiest, of gimmicks?


Johnson—All The Way?
Will LBJ go all the way? Whatever he may have said about his firm intention not to run for office in November, there is still a chance that this is no irreversible decision.

The mounting opposition to Johnson's policies, and the explosive frustration at his failure to build the Great Society to order, seemed to have put him on a hiding to nothing. His one chance was to opt for the nothing, and some of his conduct since his renunciation—for example the peace moves in Vietnam—suggests that he is now trying to build up a campaign from there.

Whatever the truth of this, there is no denying that Johnson had found himself with hardly any room to manoeuvre—an unusual plight for the master politician, the ace fixer, the famous wheeler-dealer. This was the man who convinced millions of Americans that he was their saviour, who won an unprecedented victory in 1964, who was so recently the object of mass adulation. Now, Johnson has given up, or at best is struggling desperately for survival.

There is nothing unprecedented in this. One after another, politicians come, see the problems of capitalism and conquer with their promises to cure them. It does not usually take long for reality to assert itself, for the anarchies of capitalism to expose the promises and to turn the blind faith of the followers in their leader into angry disillusionment.

This has happened to Johnson and it has happened in this country to Harold Wilson, who came to power at the same time as Johnson won his famous victory and who is now similarly discredited and disliked. The fact is that capitalism’s leaders cannot control the system and they cannot break its problems. They themselves are the ones to be broken—and usually the more they promise, the greater the enthusiasm for them, the higher they climb in popular acclaim, the lower and harder they fall.